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Scenario 1: You enter a friend’s party…see a lot of familiar faces. Pick someone you know well and start talking about how cool your new <add product here> is. People standing next to your friend listen too – just that they do not know that <add same product here> is your client for PR/ advertising/ social media PR/ <add any other client-vendor relationship here>.

Scenario 2: You enter a friend’s party…see a lot of familiar faces. Pick someone you know well and start talking about how cool your new <add product here> is. People standing next toy our friend listen too – and you disclose that <add same product here> is your client for PR/ advertising/ social media PR/ <add any other client-vendor relationship here>.

Now, some examples!

Anheuser-Busch Debuts AB-Extras.com; Fuses PR w/ Social Media to Humanize Stories & Super Bowl Ads http://poprl.com/FRl
9:05 PM Jan 30th from web
[Brian Solis]

RT @octanepr: Online TV demand soars as Obama makes history according Plusnet, http://bit.ly/OcF45 [client plug]
9:55 PM Jan 21st from TweetDeck [Eb Adeyeri]

Shameless plug for a great client: Follow @Tealeaf for news and tips on how to improve the online customer experience
10:58 PM Jan 15th from web [Mandy Kakavas]

I’ve never seen a portable car park before! http://uk.youtube.com/porta… (Shameless plug for client – but true…)
7:32 PM Jan 15th from TwitBin [Jenny Simpson]

RT@Fastrack The Fastrack Army – Recruiting NOW! – With a little help from our friends at MTV! http://fastrack.in/contest….
11:19 AM Jan 28th from web [Rajika Talwar]

I’m all for plugs, trust me…I’m in PR, after all! But, the question is the point and manner of the plug. Brian’s plug on Anheuser-Busch’s new website seems innocuous, until you click that link. But on the post, Brian makes it clear that he is collaborating with Anheuser-Busch. Examples 2, 3 and 4 are straight forward and honest enough. But example 5 has Rajika – employed with Blogworks – re-tweeting one of her client’s (Fastrack) tweet…with no plug alert. Does this require a plug alert? Rather, when is a plug alert necessary? In Rajika’s case, a curious-enough reader could find out her connection with Blogworks, and, with even more curiosity, Blogworks’ connection with Fastrack. But not all readers are that curious!

So, here are some observations.

  1. What is the intention of a client plug? Is it to build followers for the client’s Facebook fan group (that you built)/ Twitter profile (that you set up)? If that’s the case, shouldn’t you be honest about that with your network, which is different from err…your client’s network?
  2. Is the plug intended to build traffic for a client initiative that you put together? Fair enough! But, can it be done in a way that your network doesn’t feel used? Examples 3 and 4 above are actually apologetic of the plug (the word, ‘shameless’) and seem far more honest in intention, to me.
  3. Logical next question…is it fair to use your personal influence (and hence, network), to promote your client’s activities/ social media PR? In traditional PR, we’re influencing a set of influencers (mostly traditional media), so that the word spreads credibly (in most cases, I understand your smirk, however!) through those influencers’ readership/ network. But, using my Twitter network – which could be made up of followers of diverse interests – is perhaps akin to pitching a tech story to all the journalists I know.
  4. An extension of #3…in case of Fastrack, it is a brand that everybody uses. I like Fastrack, but I like Timex even more, as a brand and its products. So, based on the generic/ widespread use of a product, does the tweet become acceptable?
  5. When promoting a client within my network of other social media enthusiasts, I’d rather try to promote the case study of my engagement for a particular client. This is intended to share and gain knowledge from my network – not promote my client’s product/ service.

This is a question of etiquette – not ethics. That’s why the 2 scenarios on top. Social media is nothing but a mirror of the social acts of people in the real world. I wouldn’t do anything online that I would be worried of doing offline, just because the online world is perceived as being more anonymous. The truth is just the reverse – in the online world, its far more easy to mine your traces and understand your profile. So, etiquette assumes so much meaning online.

For a social media consultant, promoting a client needs to take into account 2 main factors – (1) the client’s product/ service and (2) that product/ service’s target segment. So, the ideal way would not be to mine your network for such promotion but to build its own network, from the ground up. Using your personal network could be an easy way to build quick traction, but in my opinion, it undermines the trust your network placed upon you. Your network chose to follow you because of you as a person, your body of work and your interests, among others. If you like an eating joint and promote it within your network, that is a genuine act of letting your followers enjoy what you enjoyed. Now, if that eating joint is your client, etiquette-wise, it becomes your duty to disclose that connection – let your network decide your recommendation’s credibility.

If you’re a movie blogger, how would you review a movie for which its production house sent you free tickets? Positive? Negative? Does it really matter, as long as you disclose the freebie? In Text 100’s (shameless plug no?) blogger engagement programs we encourage the blogger to note the outreach by the client’s PR firm (us) – its not so much for the client, since the client’s product/ service is anyway being mentioned – but more for making the blogger’s post sound as credible as possible.

As an aside, take the Scoble – Amazon affiliate story by Louis Gray. This part deserves even more scrutiny since this would be almost like asking my blog’s readers to click on the Google Adsense ads, via Twitter. Google doesn’t allow that, of course. I personally see a clear conflict of interest in this act, as with the other tweets that promote a client’s work without a disclosure.

Photo courtesy: Jake Mates via Flickr.

Comments

comments

2 thoughts on “To plug or not to plug!

  1. Some great questions for anyone offering up a plug. Thanks for all the useful information on this post. It’s important to remember, if you are going to make a plug, at least make it a very discrete on.

    Great topic.

    Timothy

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